The government is denying reports by officials in the Justice Ministry that more than 100 prisoners have died in detention since January this year due to malnutrition and related illnesses caused by food shortages and natural causes.
Justice Ministry permanent secretary, Virginia Mabhiza, and Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services Deputy Commissioner responsible for administration, Agrrey Machingauta, told parliament’s Justice Portfolio Committee under oath Monday that the food situation in the country’s prisons was dire, adding 100 inmates had died as a result since the beginning of the year.
But responding to questions from members of the National Assembly, Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, said although prisons in the country had food challenges, not a single person has died of hunger.
He accused media of distorting information given to parliament by the two senior officials in his ministry. Mr. Mnangagwa did not disclose what had caused the deaths of the 100 inmates.
The two senior officials told the parliamentary committee that they require $1.2 million to run the country’s prisons but they were allocated only $300,000 resulting in the failure to provide adequate food.
Earlier this year, Zimbabwe Prison Commissioner, Paradzai Zimondi, told journalists during a media tour of the Harare Remand Prison that they were experiencing food shortages and were getting assistance from non-governmental organizations to supplement their food supplies.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made told the House of Assembly government is making efforts to provide food to all needy people in rural areas, adding private players are importing maize to cater for urban areas.
He said government has to date imported 17,000 tonnes of the required 150,000 tonnes that it aims to import from Zambia to avert hunger in the country.
The World Food Program estimates that 1.2 million people are in need of food aid in Zimbabwe but this figure has been disputed by government officials.
Meanwhile, Chivi District administrator Bernard Hadzirabwi told Studio 7 that at least 40,000 villagers in the district are on the verge of starvation.
He said they urgently need assistance to survive.
Christian Care national director Stansilous Chatikobo said Masvingo is not the only province affected by hunger, adding other districts around the country facing the same crisis.
On Tuesday, acting principal director in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Sydney Mhishi, told the parliamentary committee on Millenium Development Goals that about 63 percent of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line due to poor salaries and low food production.
Studio 7 failed to get a comment from the Labour and Social Welfare Ministry. But Chatikobo said Christian Care is delaying its food assistance program to Masvingo disctricts due to scarcity.